Targeting Consumers on the Holiday Purchase Path Means Reducing Friction

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The consumer path to purchase typically depends on the vertical. Some purchases by their nature are more impulsive, while others require thought and research. Typically, one chooses a restaurant or a coffee shop based on immediate need and convenience, whereas choosing a new washer and dryer might require lots of preplanning. For this reason, restaurant searches are popular on mobile, while appliances are more commonly researched on tablets or laptops.

Around the holidays though, everything changes a bit. With gift lists to manage and special events to plan for, consumers tend to spend a lot more time on multiple devices, finding just the right restaurant for a holiday get-together and just the right toy or gift for a loved one. It’s safe to assume that search traffic on all devices around all types of products and services, even those that require less consideration at other times of year, soon will be increasing significantly.

One might imagine a canonical path for the holiday shopper to be one where research begins on a home-based device like a laptop or tablet and continues with driving directions on the phone during the actual shopping trip, including mobile searches for coffee, gas, and other incidental needs along the way. With the National Retail Federation projecting $630.5 billion in overall holiday sales this year, a 3.7 percent increase over 2014, retailers and service providers have a lot to gain at multiple points along this holiday commerce chain.

Fundamentally, the goal of any digital marketing effort should be to ensure that engaging, actionable messaging is presented to consumers when and where they need it and are prepared to act on it. This means brands and businesses need to ensure they are accurately and competitively represented in search, social, and mobile channels, and that social engagement and advertising efforts are properly targeted to the right consumers at the right times. With multiple devices, sites, and apps in play, maintaining consistency and boosting engagement is a real challenge; but failing to do so ensures you’ll lose out to the competition, especially in the high-stakes playing field of the holiday season. Ideally, your brand exists holistically across all devices, sites, and apps, so that customers can pick up on the phone where they left off on the laptop or tablet and vice versa with a minimum of friction.

In addition to the device perspective, another profitable way to think about digital marketing is via the lens of proximity. Ultimately, the goal of brick-and-mortar retailers is to get products into customers’ hands. The path to purchase in this context maps the consumer journey from the home, to the store’s vicinity, to the inside of the store, to the shelf, to the product, and finally to the checkout counter. The eight layers of location as conceptualized by Dr. Phil Hendrix help to clarify this concept and identify marketing opportunities for targeting consumers at each point along this version of the purchase path.

Again, the goal is reduced friction, and the ideal is messaging appropriate to time, place, and need. Consumers have different though overlapping needs at different points along the journey from home to store. At every point, the consumer should have access to basic data such as store hours, as well as information on products and services offered and points of differentiation appropriate to the type of purchase. This information should be available on owned properties such as store websites as well as on third-party listings and social profiles, with strong points of connection between these portals.

However, where possible the messaging should change appropriate to the stage in the journey. The consumer at home needs information that will assist in researching competing products and services; the consumer on the road or on the street needs to know what’s near and what’s open; the consumer near a store needs to know why he should walk through the door; and the consumer in the store needs to know why she should make a purchase decision now, not later or somewhere else.

Many brands and marketing companies are beginning to leverage information latent in the customer journey that can help to identify, target, and reward customers at each of these stages. Ad retargeting through browser cookies is one such well-established strategy, helping to keep a brand on the consumer’s radar once a website visit has indicated interest.

However, cookies only work in the browser, so a different strategy is needed for mobile. Luckily, mobile devices track their own locations as a matter of course. As long as consumers are willing to share that information in some fashion, a brand or business can reach out to them with knowledge of where they are and deliver the right type of message: an incentive to enter the store, for instance, targeted only to consumers who are nearby and who meet certain defined criteria for targeting, such as membership in a rewards program, presence of a store coupon downloaded to the phone, or presence of an installed and running branded app or third-party partner app. Given access to consumer segmentation tools and information that ties consumer segments to devices, businesses can even target consumers they’ve never seen with incentives to visit the store.

Black Friday is just a week away, so business owners have precious little time left to prepare for the holiday rush. Hopefully, many of the more fundamental strategies for digital visibility during the holidays have already been implemented. With some of the newer real-time tools available on sites like Google and Facebook, even procrastinating store owners and brand managers can achieve a last-minute lift before the holidays.

As for targeting consumers based on proximity, several forward-thinking brands already have begun to implement beacon technology and other tools to achieve this goal, but many are doing very little to market themselves effectively on mobile. Proximity targeting is not the easiest nut to crack, so if you don’t have anything in place today, now is the time to begin planning for 2016. Rest assured the competition is already doing that.

Damian Rollison is Director of Market Insights at SOCi. SOCi is the leading CoMarketing Cloud for multi-location enterprises. They empower nearly 1,000 brands to automate and scale their marketing efforts across all locations and digital channels.